The near-conversion of a sceptic

Opinions on P Chidambaram’s Singapore lecture

Palaniappan Chidambaram is perhaps the only saving grace of India’s Congress-led coalition government. Both in style and substance, his speech at a seminar in Singapore yesterday was just what would have been expected from the finance minister of an emerging economic giant — head poking into the clouds, while feet firmly planted on hard ground.

His most significant policy pronouncements were unequivocal stands on economic growth and globalisation as the twin formulae for human development and poverty alleviation.

The question and answer session brought out some of the best in Chidambaram. To a question on what an individual could do to play a role in India’s development, his reply was quick and direct. “Create wealth”, he said.

His faith in liberal democracy clearly stood out when he answered a question on strikes. He replied, to applause, that he did not like strikes. He added, to further applause, that he did not like banning strikes either. The goal he said, is to create conditions such that workers see reasons not to go on strike.

But his response to the influence of the Left on the UPA government’s economic policies was less convincing. The concerns of the Left, he said, are also the concerns of the Congress party and all other ‘secular’ parties — healthcare, education and poverty reduction — as if non-‘secular’ parties were immune from such lofty ambitions. The point he did not care to address was how much the Congress party’s uneasy alliance with the Communists was stalling the very things like growth and globalisation that Chidambaram holds dear.

But blaming the Left as an ideological force in Indian politics is rather simplistic, not least because India’s ideological Right suffers not only suffers from a lack of confidence, but also finds its economics hostage to its politics. While the pernicious role of the loony Left has been much documented, derided and lamented, the failure of the BJP to provide an alternative model has hardly been criticised. In the end, the blame for choking India’s economic growth cannot but be blamed on the BJP, whose failure as opposition may even outweigh its success in government.

8 thoughts on “The near-conversion of a sceptic”

  1. While the pernicious role of the loony Left has been much documented, derided and lamented, the failure of the BJP to provide an alternative model has hardly been criticised.

    Well, towards the end of its tenure, it did look like the BJP was getting serious about economic reform, slashing tariffs, raising foreign investment limits, going full-tilt in support of privatization, and talking about the need to reform labor laws. That’s why, of course, the SENSEX temporarily crashed after the election results were reported. While the xenophobic socialists on the far right were certainly a major political influence near the start of the BJP’s reign, they appeared to be marginalized towards its end. As you’re well-aware, no such marginalization has happened yet to the Communists.

  2. Eric,

    Quite right. What I’m referring to is the failure of the BJP to take up its responsibilities as a serious party of opposition. From parliamentary tactics to overall strategy, the BJP hardly conveys the impression that it is a responsible party. Instead of an instinctive opposition to whatever the government proposes, it should stay ideologically committed — that means supporting the government on liberalisation and reforms. As long as it does do this, it is ironically allowing the Leftists to wield an undue influence over government policy.

  3. Well said, Nitin. The BJP like every party which has tasted political power for the first time albeit for a LONG time still refuses to come to terms with its unseating. Whatever the reasons, the BJP is definitely clueless on its role as an opposition. And its opportunism reeks especially from its efforts at getting Paswan into its fold in Bihar. A good handle for the Left to choke it. See my blog entry later today for another inanity from the loonies.

  4. Nitin,

    I can’t disagree with that. The inability of either the BJP or the Congress to see the other side as something other than evil incarnate continues to do enormous damage to India’s economic and political health. In the absence of a change to this siege mentality, India needs the emergence a healthy centrist party that can represent the interests of the middle class and play kingmaker to either of the two major parties within a coalition.

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